John Hillman

In augmented reality, as things behave in unexpected ways, our ‘real’ reality seems more obscure, confused and hidden.

Augmented reality is fundamentally different from virtual reality: it does not map a real world environment into a digital one as a virtual experience. Instead, it locates both reality and virtual within the same experiential frame. Through it, our interactions with reality are mediated via the fantasy of an augmented experience. Thus, augmented reality supplements what we see with the purpose of trying to maintain our attention. What is most fascinating about augmented reality is how reality itself becomes a part of, rather than distinct from, digital information. It is in this sense that the very notion of seeing is fundamentally challenged. Since when augmented technology is not deployed, what is left is an apparent incompleteness of simply looking. But what are the consequences of confronting this incompleteness? In this article I examine how augmented reality simply renders a structure that has always sustained the visual field.

Historically, snapshots have always been about the everyday, the banal, the repetitive, the cliched events that are part of everyone’s lives. And by using Snapchat, almost any everyday activity can be combined with the production and distribution of an everyday image.

For users of the image messaging Snapchat app, expressiveness is largely mediated through in-built filters and extensive use of short pieces of text and emojis. It is also contingent upon the disappearance of the image after a set time. The certainty these images will not be retained – that they will disappear – sanctions a degree of liberty in what is sent between users. However, there is also a reciprocal level of trust, since despite the app itself having no feature to save an image, recipients can screen capture the images they receive. Users do receive notification that their image has been saved in a screen capture, and this is likely to elicit a spontaneous reaction of despair, a breach of the code of disappearing images that is implicit in Snapchat’s communication method. In this essay, I propose Snapchat portraits express not the face as image but image as perplexing, disappearing, mutating phenomena. With their filters and distortions they unsettle our notions of the index and with their built in disappearance they challenge any notion of image as a memory prosthetic. Snapchat, as a form of portraiture, is not engaged with likeness or reproducibility. Instead, it stresses duplication, disguise and disappearance as the dominant features of contemporary culture.

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